Reuven, do you know what the rabbis tell us God said to Moses when he was about to die? … He said to Moses, ‘You have toiled and laboured, now you are worthy of rest.’ …

Human beings do not live forever, Reuven. We live less than the time it takes to blink an eye, if we measure our lives against eternity. So it may be asked what value is there to a human life. There is so much pain in the world. What does it mean to have to suffer so much if our lives are nothing more than the blink of an eye? …

I learned a long time ago, Reuven, that a blink of an eye in itself is nothing. But the eye that blinks, that is something. A span of life is nothing. But the man who lives that span, he is something. He can fill that tiny span with meaning, so its quality is immeasurable though its quantity may be insignificant. Do you understand what I am saying? A man must fill his life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning. That I do not think you understand yet. A life filled with meaning is worthy of rest. I want to be worthy of rest when I am no longer here. Do you understand what I am saying?

From The Chosen by Chaim Potok (New York: Ballantine, 1967)

When I want to go wide or deep in study, it takes work. When I want to be faithful to the songs I sing in worship, it takes work. When I want to be a good friend or daughter or steward of self, it takes work.

But I find that I like the path of least resistance, the easy way out, to be at the kind of rest where I’m shirking work. Yet I don’t fancy the arrogance of wasting my life on the trivial or the pointlessness of merely money as gain. I’m not keen on striving based on someone else’s ideals or presuming to take the credit when it is really (always, always, always) God at work.

Then where does that leave me? Exactly where I am today, coming to my last semester in seminary. But I’m still as ever wrestling with the rigours it takes to do good work, the kind that deserves its rest. I realise I am immensely privileged even to think on these things.

So it looks like I’m going to have to grow wise and/or wild in the days ahead to keep pushing past my fear of boredom, my instinct for more putrid forms of entertainment, my pleasure in mindlessness. To surrender body, mind and spirit, to passion, purpose and purity.

I expressly don’t know what’s ahead. My heart is still racing to believe (and thus live out) hefty chunks of what my mind seems to be convinced about. But I know this is what I will be clinging to in the massive year ahead: I trust Him, for all that has happened in the past. I trust Him, in all that is happening in the present. I trust Him, with all that will happen in the future. May my will abide with His and His will be done in and through me. Amen.

There is a hiatus between the arena of the young theologian’s actual spiritual growth and what he already knows intellectually about this arena. (10)

Every theological idea which makes an impression upon you must be regarded as a challenge to your faith. Do not assume as a matter of course that you believe whatever impresses you theologically and enlightens you intellectually. (31)

A theological thought can breathe only in the atmosphere of dialogue with God. (34)

A person who pursues theological courses is spiritually sick unless he reads the Bible uncommonly often and makes the most of opportunities by which, in preaching and Bible classes, that cornerstone is made visible. (40)

— From A Little Exercise for Young Theologians by Helmut Thielicke, translated by Charles L. Taylor (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1962)

One more paper (and 300 or so pages of a counselling textbook) before this semester can draw to a close. One more week before a flying leap eastwards. One more month before the third season of getting Sherlocked. One more semester before I’m meant to emerge from what Thielicke terms “spiritual puberty”.

These are hopeful projections. Outcomes ultimately unknowable right now.

One more.

Want more. Of the one who lets himself be known. Of you, Lord Jesus.

Amen.

The Look of Love 88. Chennai Express (2013) — I didn’t think the new SRK would be as bad or even as good as others have claimed. I liked his pairing with the doe-eyed, long-limbed, progeny-of-sporting-legend Deepika Padukone in Om Shanti Om (specifically when she was playing the ill-fated movie star), so I knew I wouldn’t go bleargh at her not-Kajol-ness (only Kajol herself can fulfil that). I’m glad to report that, to me and Sayesha at least, 90% of the movie was entertaining enough. The 10% that flunked was its last 20 minutes, when a lack of careful scripting and a machismo meltdown resulted in too many thoughtlessly angry words and too much bloody fighting.

That being said, I was pleased with the surprises in the movie. SRK, aka the character Rahul, honestly wimping out. His scaredy-cat falsetto is very charming. The hilarious handling of songs from films from SRK’s past. You really have to have caught them to catch the jokes. I was most tickled by Sayesha being tickled the most by the Malayalam song quoted from Dil Se. The visual splendour of South India as lensed by Bollywood, most visible in the adorning of DP, in the guise of the character Meenamma. The touches of feminism in DP’s name being shown before SRK’s, in a leading lady who rescues more than she needs rescue, in a rant against the falseness of India’s independence for half its population, and in the hero humbly asking the heroine to marry him and not just take her for his own after ‘winning’ her in the eyes of her people.

Best surprise of all, though, was the unexpected authenticity of the farfetched romance. Ah, that’s what Sayesha and I have been missing from the offerings of recent years. For some reason, the director Rohit Shetty, whose films are better known for their car-flipping antics, managed to inject some good ol’ Eau de Romance into a few scenes. And no, the EDR is not constituted by the bland formula Attraction = Love. Just because a man is handsome and a woman is beautiful does not mean they conduct a believable romance.

Here, the man is entranced by the woman’s beauty but it is her kindness and courage that leads him to grapple with his fears and decide on the brave thing to do. Here, the woman rolls her eyes at the man’s weirdness but comes to see the strength that belies him and mirrors her own. The scene at the sky-high temple works because the story is suddenly not about maidens or mobsters or a mithaiwala with a mid-life crisis, but about how true substance (in this case, love) sometimes flows into the familiar forms we surround ourselves with (in this case, ritual). It’s about how and why the heart of a mobster maiden can be quickened for a mithaiwala with a mid-life crisis.

So, despite its flaws, Chennai Express is worth a night out at the movies, especially if you have enjoyed SRK’s better offerings. Age is catching up, folks!

A day of peace. Of rhythms. Of sunshine and rain. Of fallowing and harvest. Of family and familiar strangers. Peace.

Thank you, Lord.

At times kneeling to the Heaven of my heart,
At times singing psalms;
At times contemplating the King of Heaven, Chief of the Holy Ones;
At times at work without compulsion, This would be delightful.
At times plucking duilisc from the rocks
At other times fishing
At times distributing food to the poor
At times in a hermitage.

Poem attributed to Saint Columba, founder of Iona abbey (Source: http://www.emergentkiwi.org.nz/archive/life-to-the-full-plucking-duilisc/)

I really like how Tim Chester explains Pharisaical behaviour in A Meal with Jesus (highly recommended for anyone who enjoys mealtimes) — what he terms “bourgeois spirituality” (page 22), attainable only by those with the time and money to pursue lofty standards. Expecting folks to dress ‘decently’, behave ‘properly’, learn ‘well’ and observe social ‘courtesies’ (say, punctuality) is a form of exclusion before embrace. Regarding full-time ministry as the acme of godliness is another.

Moreover, just like how churches might bleat against abortions but condemn unwed, teenage mothers rather than commit to supporting them, Pharisees today are wont to preach from afar:

Perhaps through displays of learning or rhetoric that make the non-literate feel that they can’t read the Bible for themselves.

Perhaps through application that focuses on externals and leaves hearts unchanged.

Perhaps by applying the text to dodgy charismatics or Catholics or dispensationalists or fundamentalists or liberals or pagans — anyone but themselves.

Perhaps by reading the BIble through theological grids so we say what the text does not say rather than what it does say.

Perhaps by emphasising knowledge but not obedience or love. (pages 23–24)

I am warned, and am convicted of the times I’ve kept silent not out of compassion but fear, or neglected to work harder and suss out the cracks in prevailing patterns of thought. I think we veer close to being false prophets more often than we suspect; I know I myself have been in danger and violation of many millstone-heavy errors. Thank God for his scandalous grace, which is always enough, and the Holy Spirit, who indwells in all believers.

If it feels impossible to worship God through styles that are uncomfortable to us, it’s because we’re asking the music to do for us what is actually an issue of the heart.

Alex McDonald, pianist

I’d also say it sometimes feels impossible to worship God when I grasp too little of myself, having been busy beating down predictable errors of thought or being otherwise engaged to gaze into the innermost parts.

This is apart from the usual problem of being too full of myself, of course.

Nothing like a spell of self-rejection to remind me of the (highly metaphorical) dagger I’d poised over my heart in deeper moments of despair.

So recently, this has been my prayer: “Please, dear God who listens, awake me to your presence and your perception of me. Amen.”

Somehow, being frank in my funk prepares me to perceive that God is listening and responding to each of us, as always — his beloved sons and daughters. I think that’s why when all else fails, we can continue to say:

Thank you, Father.
Thank you, Jesus.
Thank you, Holy Spirit.

Warning: unabashedly consumerist post ahead.

Have been slowly weaning myself off the habit of finding fleeting joy in mindless shopping (it’s been so hard, especially with books and … toiletries).

But still it’s fun reminiscing about places where there are unique and reasonably priced (strong SGD permitting) goodies to be found, and one of them is Taipei. I haven’t visited since 2010 (first visit was in 2003!), but fondly remember:

  1. Just Herb, which proffers organic stuff and non-pushy salespeople. My fave products there are this perfect quick-drying, gunk-removing face towel that I regret not buying multiples of, and Comfort Tea, which is a blend of peppermint and liquorice in silk teabags and very good for soothing tummies (possibly unsettled due to point 5 and its 5 subpoints).
  2. Earth Tree, which continues the green theme, this time in the form of delightful fair trade goods, from quinoa chocolate and funky jute bags to admittedly high-end but highly browseable People Tree gear.
  3. Mr Hair, which has a DIY approach to natural haircare, letting you choose even the colour and fragrance of your products. I like the street where I found it too: details here.
  4. Opportunistic roadside pedlars lining the borders of legit night market stalls. Only from them can you land, say, a big, comfy and respectably patterned shawl that can be machine washed and happily lent to friends for NT$100. That’s less than S$5, folks!
  5. The food! Not inclusive of my beloved but inedible piece of jade at the National Palace Museum crafted to look like a succulent piece of kong bak (fatty pork belly), or the 姜母茶 (ginger tea encased in gorgeous blocks of black sugar) made and hacked to pieces in Jiufen, a locale outside the purview of this list, here are my die-die-must-tries when in Taipei:
    1. König has the best castella cake in the world. I know this because I cannot imagine anything more delicious than the light-as-air, honeyed spongey slices of love tinged with green tea that an ex-colleague brought back in a box shaped like a house. I just can’t.

      Yup, that's how long it takes to scarf down a slice

      Yup, that’s how long it takes to scarf down a slice. Thanks, GG!

    2. Oh, if we’re talking about edibles, I must highly commend those finger-shaped fish cracker-type thingies in Danshui. Addictive.
    3. And I know 葱油饼 (scallion pancakes) are like Taiwanese-style roti prata, but I utterly enjoy the chewy and the tasty. Ooh, and ask for a dollop of chilli sauce. My favourite is the one on Yongkang Street: details here.
    4. MY and I once stumbled upon an amaaaaazing 扣肉饭 (braised pork belly rice) shop near Riviera Hotel. And couldn’t get enough of it. We just couldn’t.
    5. So, you savour Teochew porridge, especially for supper? Wait till you try the double whammy of bubbling 地瓜粥 (sweet potato porridge) and crackling 菜脯煎蛋 (fried egg with preserved radish/turnip) at the supper shop just a skip and a hop away from Da-an station. Bonus: the porridge is presented in a pot with a ladle. Cute!

I have more recommendations for Taipei here, and (sometimes harrowing) records of my visits here.